Friday, December 11, 2015

Jamestown, New York: Murals of Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball became a little bigger than life in her career, but not this big.

Jamestown has honored its native daughter with five murals scattered around downtown. They are all done by local artist Gary Peters, and add a nice touch of public art to the area.

The one shown here is the best one. It's a tribute to one of the most famous episodes of "I Love Lucy," in which she becomes a commercial hostess for a health product. The catch is that the serum contains alcohol, and the more takes Lucy does, the more intoxicated she gets. Vitameatavegamin gets pretty mangled along the way.

There are murals of the candy-wrapping episode, one with Lucy and Desi, a replica of the Lucy stamp placed on the wall of the post office, and one across the river from downtown with Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel driving to California.

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Jamestown, New York: Lucille Ball's Burial Place

It's rather easy to pay your respects to Lucille Ball during a visit to Jamestown.

The television star died in 1989, and her ashes had been in California. But the family eventually decided that she should be back in her native Jamestown with her original family, and so Lucy's remains were moved across the country.

The cemetery is located north of downtown and just off Route 60. The main entrance is at 907 Lakeview Ave. Drive in the main gate, and look for the faded hearts on the road. (Note to maintenance crew: Time to redo those hearts.) The family grave is fairly close to the entrance, and you can see it from the road if you look down a path.

We'll always love Lucy.

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Celoron, New York: Lucille Ball's Childhood Home

You have to admire the residents of this house at 59 Lucy Lane in Celoron, NY, located just west of Jamestown near Chautauqua Lake.

One of the legendary figures in television, Lucille Ball, grew up in this structure. She wasn't born here - that was relatively nearby at 69 Stewart Ave. in Jamestown. But this was the family homestead.

The house has moved along to other owners over the years. The current ones don't have tours for you to set foot in Lucy's old room or anything, so don't knock on the front door. But they do show their respect for the previous owner. If you look carefully, you'll see that the garage is decorated to look like one of Lucy's polka-dot dresses from the television show, "I Love Lucy."

Genius can turn up just about anywhere, including Celoron.

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Jamestown, New York: National Comedy Center

You could argue that this is a replica of one of the most famous kitchens in America in the 1950s.

It's a recreation of the kitchen from the television program, "I Love Lucy," which has been shown every day in some part of the world for almost 60 years.

The set is part of the National Comedy Center, which has become a major tourist attraction in Jamestown.  Lucille Ball was born there, and in the last several years the town has embraced the connection.

The Comedy Center has two parts to it. There's the Lucy Desi Museum, which has a variety of items connected to Lucy and show co-star Desi Arnaz. The family donated several personal items, including clothes, letters and scripts.

Right next door is the Desilu Studios, which has replicas of three of the sets from the show. The other two are the living room in New York City, and the hotel room from California. It all comes back pretty quickly when you see it. Ball's Emmy awards are there (six in all), plus other displays about the program. I have no idea why the two parts of the center weren't connected into one big museum when it was built. But you pay for them both at once, walk through one, and then head outside for a short walk to the other entrance. Naturally, there are souvenir stores in both places.You can rent a device to hear Lucy Arnaz, Ms. Ball's daughter, describe the contents of the museum.

It takes about 90 minutes to go through it all, even if you don't stop at some of the videos, and it's certainly a loving tribute.

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Jamestown, New York: The Robert H. Jackson Center

The Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, New York, is unique. It's the only place in the country that honors the memory of a Supreme Court Justice in such a way.

The Center is located in downtown Jamestown. It's an old mansion, built by the Kent family in 1859-60, that has been updated for use in this way. The main part of the building has offices and meeting rooms. A room looking out of the front of the building quite well done. Then there's a room named after Ulysses S. Grant, who visited Jamestown once. The room, pictured here, is great for meetings or small functions. It does feel like an old, nice mansion.

An area that used to be the barn once upon a time has been converted in meeting areas. There's a fine theater that seats 200 people, and can be used for movies, speeches, etc. Down below it is a room that seats perhaps 120 for banquets, etc.

Jackson had an interesting life, which is remembered here. He was a good lawyer once upon a time when he had the chance to become friends with Franklin Roosevelt. Obviously, FDR had a high opinion of Jackson's talents. Eventually, Jackson was named Solicitor General, Attorney General, and Supreme Court Justice - all within a few years. When President Harry Truman needed someone to conduct the war trials of several Nazi leaders after World War II, he picked Jackson - who by all accounts did a superb job. Jackson went back to the Court when that job was done, and was putting together am excellent body of work when he died in his early 60s in 1954 - right after being part of the famous Brown vs. Board of Education decision that ended legal segregation.

There are interesting items sprinkled around the building. For example, one hallway has the framed autographs of every Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Two books on Jackson were sent to current Justices, with the request that one be autographed and returned for display. They all did so, some with interesting notes. Posters about some of those tried in Nuremberg line the walls of the banquet room. It's a rather chilling story.  Jackson's desk in Nuremberg was pulled out of storage by the military, and his chair from his Supreme Court days is also there.

One last note - a docent usually is around to give tours. The staff couldn't have been more friendly to visitors.

It obviously helps to have an interest in history to go to a place like this, but this really is an appropriate tribute to one of Jamestown's native sons.

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

New Orleans, Louisiana: World War II Museum

It's tough to know what picture to use when writing about the World War II Museum in New Orleans. I opted to go with this one from the US Freedom Pavilion, in which a few airplanes hang from the high ceiling to greet visitors in the lobby. There are four viewing levels, and I believe this was taken from the fourth. It's pretty impressive to be so close to a WW2 aircraft.

In fact, the entire museum is impressive. A D-Day Museum first came to the area, as an important boat that was very useful to Allied forces was built here. Then came the idea, apparently, to pay tribute to the entire war effort. Visitors enter the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, where they briefly board a Union Pacific Train Car for the start of the journey.

Then it is on to the Solomon Victory Theater Complex. A 40-minute film, hosted by Tom Hanks, reviews the history of the War. The screen is huge, objects come into view from the darkness, and seats vibrate. The movie is educational too, although some of the veterans we saw during our visit certainly could recite the story.

The Campaigns of Courage building has a nice recap of the European theater, with all sorts of artifacts, videos and replicas. You could spend quite a while there if you so choose. The day we were there, the Pacific theater floor was said to be "under construction." I can't say I know if this is a short-term or long term project as of October 2015, but it was disappointing to miss out on all that.

The Freedom Pavilion offers a look at the aviation side of the war; give Boeing credit for being the title sponsor. A movie on the submarine experience is also available. Visitors return to the Solomon Complex for food and the gift shop.

I'm not sure I'd rate this as one of the world's great museums without the Pacific portion being open. But it still is quite a complex and worth the price of admission. It will even keep the kids entertained while they learn some history along the way.

Here's a discussion from two guys that know something about the place:



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New Orleans, Louisiana: St. Louis Cathedral

No matter what your religious preferences, an old church - especially when it's big and especially old - is always worth a look. Such is the case of the St. Louis Cathedral, located right off of Jackson Square in New Orleans.

A church has been on this particular piece of land for almost 300 years, and the cornerstone of the new church was laid in 1789 - when Washington was sworn in as President. That makes it one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States.

Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II both paid a visit to the place. Katrina did do some damage, mostly by opening a hole in the roof. That caused some water damage to the magnificent organ. The musical instrument was shipped off to the factor for extensive repair, and now is back in service.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Jackson Square

I read somewhere on this trip that there was little doubt that Andrew Jackson was the most popular President in Louisiana. After all, they did name a square after him in the middle of downtown New Orleans.

The area used to be called "Place d'Armes," but was renamed after Jackson's victory over the British in the War of 1812. History majors might remember that the battle was fought after the peace treaty was signed; global communications have improved in speed since then.

The Square is surrounded by several historic buildings, and the French Quarter's most popular areas are nearby.

A walk through the area is always fun. During our visit, we were greeted by Dixieland music from a band that must have had 12 members. Many artists also were enjoying a warm autumn day, painting away in the sun.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Monument to the Immigrants

America has had some serious discussions lately about immigrants, and how to handle the situation of those who are here and those who want to come here.

Anyone who does make it on to American soil, though, will be happy to know that there's something of a welcome waiting in New Orleans. It comes in the form of a marble statue along the Mississippi River.

The Monument to the Immigrants features a muse soaring above a family who apparently just come to our shores, offering protection, etc. There's no ideal side for viewing this, as muse is overseeing the river and the family is looking the other way toward the French Quarter and a new home. But you get the idea.

The Italian American Marching Club put this up in 1995. It was created by Franco Alessandrini of New Orleans.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Natchez

It wouldn't be the Mississippi River if there wasn't a steamboat on it. Mark Twain would be proud to see that the Natchez is still steaming around the mighty river.

The boat offers a variety of cruises during the course of a week and of a year. There are two-hour journeys at day time exploring the river, night cruises and Sunday brunch cruises. There's even some jazz played on every ride. It's available for private parties and weddings.

This is the ninth boat to carry this name and has been around in about 40 years. This is only one of two steam-powered sternwheelers on the Mississippi. 

Entry point is near Jackson Square. If you take the brunch cruise, it will set you back $40.50, although you can skip the meal and save about $10 if you just want to watch the world go by on the boat.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Holocaust Memorial

The area along the riverfront near downtown in New Orleans has been turned into a nice public park. There are a variety of walking paths and public arts to take in.

One of the most interesting has to be Yaacov Agam’s Holocaust Memorial in Woldenberg Riverfront Park. It's not just one piece of art, it's nine.

That's because it was designed that way. Stand in front of it, and you'll see one image. Walk a short distance on the circular path around it, and find another. And another. And another. Interesting idea.

Agam is an Israeli artist whose works are on display all over the world. This one was dedicated in 2003. According to the New Orleans tourism website, "The sculpture is a tribute to the Jews’ resilience, a call to never repeat the tragedy of the Holocaust, and also an impressive and dynamic work of art."

Very nice.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

New Orleans, Louisiana: Mardi Gras World

What, you think those floats and other items that appear each year at Mardi Gras in New Orleans are made by elves at the North Pole who have little to do after Christmas? Think again.

Welcome to Mardi Gras World, where float-making is their business. Drive to the riverfront near downtown, and follow the green finger toward the parking lots.

Visitors can walk around the building as construction goes on, posing for pictures as they go. They'll even let you pose in a traditional Mardi Gras costume in order to get some easy laughs on Facebook.

Tours are available seven days a week except on some major holidays. They'll even come get you if you need a ride there. And the company has a Mardi Gras tour that includes a visit to the factory.

Obviously, this lends itself to a video:



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New Orleans, Louisiana: Superdome

The first time I saw the Superdome was in 1977. We arrived on Sunday night by car, and my fellow college students and I had to see it first in New Orleans. We got off the on-ramp in the dark, and suddenly it was in front of us: immense.

Fast forward almost 40 years, and it still fits that description. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as it is now called, has become a complex of past, present and future sports history. Several Super Bowls have held there, along with NCAA basketball finals, college football championships, bowl games, etc.

Yet it always will be associated somewhat with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When some residents couldn't leave the city for one reason or another, they were shipped to the Superdome to ride out the storm. Even this amazing structure couldn't take the pounding from the storm. Almost 20,000 people tried to ride out the storm in the Superdome, but the idea didn't work. There were too many people and not enough supplies, and the roof developed leaks that let water spill in. Eventually, the building was evacuated, and many of the refugees (if that's the right word) went to Houston.

There was talk of closing up the facility. Instead, a massive repair effort took place and the Superdome was open for business in 2006.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: St. Louis Cemetery #1

It does seem odd that part of New Orleans is built below sea level. Then again, when you visit you see signs of that fact everywhere.

For example, this cemetery.

St. Louis No. 1 cemetery is the most famous graveyard in St. Louis, probably because it is the oldest. It opened in 1789 after a big fire swept the city.

If you notice, all of the tombs are above ground. You don't want to dig too deeply in the Mississippi Delta. By the way, the air is exactly good for preservation, and the bodies decompose quickly in New Orleans. So families leave loved ones in there a while, and then take out the remains after more than a year and move them somewhere else. Many different people in a family can be taken to the same place over the years.

A couple of mayors are buried here, and so is Homer Plessy. You might remember him as part of one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in history, Plessy vs. Ferguson. Nicholas Cage is said to have paid a bunch of money to buy one of the tombs. I guess he likes to plan ahead.

They do have tours of the place for those interested. The church charges companies an annual rate to enter the grounds, which has created a little conversation. 

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Pearlington, Mississippi: Lunar Lander

This might be the best highway welcome center ever.

Mississippi throws out the red carpet, and a little moon dust, to visitors who get off of Exit 2 on Interstate 10. The welcome center is just south and east of the exit. This way, you can visit it if you are traveling in either direction.

Across from the center itself is a 30-foot model of the lunar lander, as in the machine that landed on the moon a few times during the Apollo days. Your first reaction probably will be like mine - How did they get that thing to fly?

Underneath the lander is an autograph of sorts. Astronaut Fred Haise wrote his name in cement, along with leaving bootprints.

Down the road from the visitors center is the Infinity Space Center, which makes this quite an area for a roadside stop. And tourists can load up on the usual books and pamphlets during their visit as well as use the facilities. You can't ask for more from a welcome center.

About the only question I have is the location, which is tough to track down. Roadside America, which does a great job on this, lists the host city as Westonia. But that seems to be north and west of the center. Besides, the Infinity Science Center calls Pearlington home. So I'm going with Pearlington. 

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Pearlington, Mississippi: Infinity Science Center

Those who arrive at the Infinity Science Center, just off Interstate 10 in southwestern Mississippi, receive a big greeting.

What you see in the photo is one of the engines used in the Saturn V rocket that sent man to the moon. It was nice of the man on the left to post to give us an ideal of the size of the thing.

Remember, this was one of five engines that were part of the rocket. That's a lot of thrust.

This serves as a visitors center for the Stennis Space Center, and you can leave from here to tour that place. But there are plenty of other science-related exhibits at Infinity. Some are outside, available for tourists at a time. There is a buoy that is placed in the ocean to measure tsunamis. There's a tree that came from seeds that have been to the moon and back.

Inside, visitors can see movies, simulators and artifacts such as a moon rock and astronaut Fred Haise's spacesuit. Sounds educational and fun, all at the same time.

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Hancock County, Mississippi: Stennis Space Center

NASA has sent all sorts of rockets into space over the past several decades. Now if you were getting on top of one of them, wouldn't you want it to be well tested? Of course you would. Otherwise, you'd really be nervous about flying a group of low bids into space.

Therefore, NASA has to test those engines somewhere. That brings us to the Stennis Space Center, located in the southwest corner of Mississippi. The photo is of one of the main entrances.

The first thing that jumps out at a potential visitor is that the grounds are big, meaning it is an isolated facility. With a little reflection, you might realize that these are engines with lots and lots of fuel in them. If something goes very wrong, well, you might not want to live too close to it. By the way, five communities were swallowed up to make room for the center. This is where the Saturn V rockets were tested before sending Apollo astronauts to the moon and back.

The facility does have bus tours during the day, although one would assume anyone hoping to see an engine test will be disappointed.

Since we arrived too late for a tour, this aerial view of the facility was greatly appreciated:



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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Selma, Alabama: Edmund Pettus Bridge

I think I could argue that one of the biggest moments in the civil rights movement, if not THE biggest moment, took place on this bridge.

It was March 7, 1965, and many people planned to march from Selma to Montgomery to protest their lack of voting rights. The problem was that such a march could be considered a threat to the status quo, and the powers that be didn't want it to happen.

One of those powers was Sheriff Jim Clark, who was known for his racist views and violent approach to law enforcement. That's why Selma was picked for the start of the march - the response figured to be memorable.

Sure enough, March 7 became remembered as "Bloody Sunday." The marchers were ordered to disperse, and then were attacked and beaten by police. Such episodes may have happened in previous times. The difference here was that this time television cameras were watching, and the scenes were broadcast to a shocked and horrified nation. It sure didn't look like the land of the free.

Within a week, President Johnson asked Congress to pass a voting rights bill. The march was allowed to take place. Soon the 15th Amendment to the Constitution had meaning to all Americans when restrictions on voting rights were outlawed.

Here's what "Bloody Sunday" looked like:



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Selma, Alabama: Alabama River Park

We've seen all sorts of photos over the past half-century of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. However, the pictures are always taken from the downtown area. What's on the other side?

It turns out that to get to Montgomery from Selma, you'd walk over the bridge and head southeast. The other side has a couple of strip malls, and a National Voting Rights Museum that didn't look particularly attractive at least from the outside. Maybe it was just a slow day, because there is an active website for it.

However, on one side of the road is a park. The four monuments shown in the picture greet visitors before they enter the shady paths that lead down to the riverfront.

We didn't see anything on the early part of the path, and turned out. Apparently there are small wooden tributes hammered into the trees along the way, as those who lost their lives in the civil rights struggle are remembered.

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Hayneville, Alabama: Lowndes Interpretive Center

The protesters who took part in the 1965 walk from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama didn't know it at the time, but they marched into history.

A court order allowed the march to happen after a violent incident in Selma. Several hundred made the walk of about 50 miles. However, they stopped for four nights along the way.

Campsite number 2 was at the Rosie Steele Farm in Lowndes County. It wasn't the safest place to stop in those days. The county's white landowners sometimes kicked black tenant farmers off the land for registering to vote. But the marchers made it through the night, and kept moving toward the ultimate goal of the state capital.

The National Park Service is in the midst of establishing three interpretive centers along the route. The one in Montgomery hasn't been built yet, although the subject is covered in other places. The center in Selma is fairly small; expansion to other floors of the building are said to be coming. That leaves Lowndes County, and it's a good one.

The highlight is a 20-minute film about the march. Several participants are interviewed about why they took such strong measures to get the right to vote. And those wise "old" people are upset about how today's young people don't even bother to exercise that right. It's powerful stuff, and should be shown in high schools around the country. The facility also has several exhibits on the march, which includes the statues shown in the picture.

The Interpretive Center may be in the midst of farmland, but it's definitely worth going out of your way for a visit.

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Montgomery, Alabama: Hank Williams Statue

Hank Williams was a comet in the music business.

He was born in Mount Olive, Alabama, which is as big as you think it is, and he moved to Montgomery at the age of 14. There he had his own 15-minute radio show and started playing music with a group, which led to him dropping out of school.

Williams recorded such songs as "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." He was the first performer to do six encores at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville. But alcoholism and prescription drug abuse took their toll, and Williams died of heart failure in 1953 at the age of 29.

But he left quite a legacy, as he's part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Williams played many times in Montgomery, so it's only fitting that a statue of him (pictured here) is right across the street from the old Auditorium - site of many of those concerts. A Hank Williams Museum is located in Montgomery, and he is buried in the Oakwood Annex in that city.

Seems like a good time for a little music:

 

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Montgomery, Alabama: Riverwalk

The Alabama River passes through Montgomery. It looks like the City Fathers (and Mothers) have figured out that people like to go to the waterfront as often as possible. Thus, Riverwalk Park was created.

There are a variety of components to the area. The one pictured here is the Harriott II riverboat. It is in operation from February through October.

Just down the sidewalk from the boat is an Amphitheater, which can hold up to 6,000 people. A splash pad and skate park are in the immediate area.

Nearby is the Union Station train shed. The Montgomery Visitors Center is located in the adjoining building. Apparently the shed, which is used for parking, can be rented out; there's a nice view of the river area. Also in the area is Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits. It's the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. The official website for the area has a picture of the sign out front rather than of the stadium, which seems like a missed opportunity.

It all looks pretty good. But it was pretty empty when we visited late on a picture-perfect weekday afternoon, to the point where it was almost a little scary. It seems like a few commercial outlets are needed to get more people in the area on a regular basis.

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Montgomery, Alabama - Hyundai Plant Tour

It's difficult to get a representative picture of the tour of the Hyundai plant. Photos along the way are not allowed.

Therefore, we'll have to settle for a shot of the main entrance for visitors. If you think it's well-maintained, well, the whole plant seems to be like that.

Factory tours are always interesting, especially when it comes to complicated items. Putting together Elantras and Sonatas, though, is a bit tougher than making pretzels. Somehow, a bunch of metal comes in the front door, and after a series of 48-second stops around the complex, it comes out as a car. This goes on for 24 hours a day, five days a week.

The star attractions are the robots. There are thousands of humans involved in the work, but the robots help out along the way to do some of the heavy lifting. They are also very accurate, and don't take many breaks. By the way, employees do different jobs during the course of the day to decrease the tedium. And many give the tourists a smile and a wave as they pass by on a tram.

It's a big plant, with about five buildings, but it's quite interesting to see how a car is put together. For example, Hyundai can switch paint colors instantly, so it's not a case of doing a few dozen blue ones, and then changing cans and doing white ones.

But why not see for yourself, through the magic of YouTube?

 

Make sure to make a reservation well in advance. Your reward at the end is that you get an email address to ask for a good discount on your next new Hyundai purchase. And remember that Hyundai rhymes with Sunday and Monday, at least in the United States.

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Montgomery, Alabama: The Rosa Parks Library & Museum

Sometimes you can start a revolution by doing nothing.

Rosa Parks, a woman of color, was riding the bus in Montgomery in 1955, and she was tired. Back in those days, white people sat in the front of a bus and blacks were sent to the back. If the bus was crowded in the front, the blacks were told to move back.

Parks was tired from a day of work and said simply that she wasn't moving. The bus driver tried to convince her to move, and could not. So he called in the police, and the authorities arrested her.

That led to a massive boycott of the Montgomery bus system, and a lawsuit. It took several months, but eventually the buses became fully integrated. And Parks became a hero to many.

A museum and library has been established in her honor. It's located right where she was arrested, complete with a marker on the street. There is a children's wing, designed to take kids back into time when the incident took place. There's also a full museum which does a nice job of recreating the entire episode. There is separate admission charges for the two areas. It's all part of Troy University.

The welcoming area in the museum is shown in the picture. Nice job.

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Montgomery, Alabama: The MOOseum

Talk about disappointment.

Who wouldn't want to pay a visit to a place called "The MOOseum" in downtown Montgomery? It's a chance to learn much about Alabama's beef cattle industry, through the efforts of the Alabama Cattlemen's Association.

Alas, we went there between noon and 1 p.m. Closed. Sign.

The MOOseum is located only a couple of blocks from the State Capitol. It's certainly an interesting way of creating good public relations.

There are nine rooms, each with a slightly different mission about the story of cattle - overall history, nutrition, biology, and a theater, among others. Naturally, there's a gift shop. Luckily for those of us who showed up at lunch time, there's an online version of the gift shop on the website.

By the way, it's free - if you get there at the right hour.
 

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Montgomery, Alabama: First White House of the Confederacy

When the Confederacy was formed in 1861, Jefferson Davis was quickly picked to be the President of the new nation. Davis was selected and sworn in at the new nation's capital of Montgomery.

Naturally, Davis and his family needed a place to live. They wound up in this mansion, conveniently located near the State Capitol building. The catch is that the home was moved to its present location about 90 years ago. It was first built about 10 blocks from where it is now, but the building was moved to its current location - probably to make it more of an attraction for tourists.

This has the usual assortment of objects actually used by the Davis family as well as other pieces from the period. It's not a huge house, but it was big enough for Mrs. Davis to hold some good-sized parties.

Alas, the Davises only stayed for a few months, as the nation's capital was moved to Richmond - because that's where all the action was at the time in the Civil War. Left behind was the house, and a good-sized trivia question about the South's first capital city.

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Montgomery, Alabama: Civil Rights Memorial Center

This is an interesting and noteworthy idea for a way to remember the Civil Rights Movement.

It's a building dedicated to those who paid the ultimate price for their work. It covers the years 1955 through 1968, and it includes tributes to some people you've heard of - Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It's not all African Americans, either. White social workers Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner were murdered outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, in a relatively famous episode.

The museum isn't too big and can be seen relatively quickly as these things go. There is a theater for a short movie, some exhibits, and a big screen that offers visitors a chance to add their names to a list of people who pledge to support equality, justice and tolerance (or at least such good qualities along those lines).

The highlight, though, probably is a big stone tablet in front of the building. The dates of the deaths of the martyrs are inscribed there, as long as key dates in the civil rights struggle. With Dr. King's quote in the background (shown in the photograph), it makes for a powerful image.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Montgomery, Alabama: Dexter Ave. Baptist Church

You come to the Dexter Ave. Baptist Church to learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. You leave thinking about Wanda Battles ... the tour guide.

Wanda leads most of the tours of the church, and she's something of a force of nature herself - full of spirit and energy. Visitors start by joining her in a chorus of "This Little Light of Mine" in the church basement. Then they head for the pastor's office, where Dr. King led this little church a couple of blocks from the state capitol from 1955 to 1960. Some of the theology books are still on the shelves there. It is in that spot that Dr. King worked on the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-56.

After seeing a podium that King used at the end of the Selma-Montgomery march in 1965 and a mural of famous moments in black history, the tourists then go upstairs to the church itself. It's a modest little place, but obviously some good sermons were given there once upon a time. Wanda tells the stories with enthusiasm, interacting nicely with the visitors.

The tour ends with everyone holding hands, singing "We Shall Overcome." And in some ways, we really did overcome. In others, we're still working on it.

The church's neighborhood has changed over the years, and that has led to the church's membership aging to the point where it's mostly seniors. Hopefully that can change, as it would be a shame if this wasn't a working parish in the future.

It takes a little less than an hour, and there is an admission charge. A few souvenirs are sold in the church basement, such as t-shirts. Sunday mornings are reserved for services, although visitors are welcome to participate.

Thank you, Wanda. 

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Montgomery, Alabama: Chief Justice Statues

The Retirement Systems of Alabama took over a space held down by the Old Judicial Building on Dexter Ave. in Montgomery, just a short walk from the State Capitol. In putting together the new place, the architects wrapped the new building around the old one.

What's more, they also paid tribute to the chief justices who had served in the old place.

Statues of the men who served in that role are saluted in a plaza in the middle of the block. It's a nice touch to have them standing in chronological order according to when they served.

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Montgomery, Alabama: March's Footprints

The 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery was a huge step in the battle for civil rights. It called attention to the fact that African Americans generally weren't allowed to vote in Alabama and in other parts of the South, despite guarantees from the federal government.

The idea of a march got off to a horrible start, as walkers were beaten by the Selma police after the start. But eventually a group was allowed to take that walk, and the spot in front of the State Capitol was the finish line. About 25,000 people gathered to mark the occasion.

There's an unusual marker to note the march's finish, but you have to look down to notice it. Instead of a crosswalk a block from the Capitol steps, there are images of footprints. It stands in for the thousands who were on this spot a half-century ago.

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Montgomery, Alabama: State Capitol

The Alabama State Capitol has some interesting history attached to it. It also has some surprises concerning the present day.

The building and the grounds are rather typical as these things go. The Capitol is up on a hill, and the front steps have an impressive view of Dexter Ave. in Montgomery.

The building will always be associated with the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis was elected President of the CSA in this building, and he was sworn in on these steps. A small marker has been placed on those steps to show where Davis stood when he took the oath of office.


Outside of the building, there are a few statues - one is of Davis, another of James Marion Sims who is considered the father of gynecology. A Confederate Memorial is on the grounds, but in 2015 the Governor ordered that Confederate flags be taken down. They were becoming something of a, um, distraction.

In the early 1980s, the two legislative houses moved into their own building across the street. The building was remodeled and opened as a tourist attraction more than a decade later. The Governor and his staff are still in the Capitol, but it all seems a little empty without having some lawmakers around.

By the way, those steps of the Capitol are also where the famous 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery took place. More on that in another section of this blog. But it seems appropriate to have part of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech on those steps available here.



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Montgomery, Alabama: Confederate Post Office

The Confederate States of America placed their first capital in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1861. Once they got done with picking a chief executive and finding him a house, it must have struck someone's mind that the United States post office wasn't going to be all that interested in delivering mail.

So Jefferson Davis reached out to a man named Reagan to start a postal service.

John Reagan, a former Congressman from Texas. He was the right man for the job, getting service up and running in no time.

But there was a catch. By the time the first mailman was on the job, the new nation's capital was in Richmond, not Montgomery. It seemed that Davis wanted to be a lot closer to where the military action was, and that was Virginia.

The sign is at 111 Washington Ave. near South Perry, and it's right in front of the building that first hosted a Confederate postal service headquarters.

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Mobile, Alabama: Hank Aaron Stadium

Mobile has a Double-A baseball team, and a stadium that's about 20 years old that ranks as the oldest in the Southern League. It also has a unique attraction right on the grounds of the stadium.

Mobile literally picked up Hank Aaron's boyhood home, and moved it near the main gate of the stadium in 2010. It's a nice little place that has been turned into a museum honoring one of baseball's all-time greats - even though naming the stadium after him was a nice tribute too.

It only costs $5 to get inside, unless you have a ticket for that day's game. Then there's free admission.

By the way, the stadium is on Bolling Brothers Blvd., to honor major leaguers and Mobile natives Frank and Milt Bolling. It's just off Satchel Paige Drive, and right off the Interstate.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Ocean Springs, Mississippi: Mississippi Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Tourist attractions sometimes pop up in unexpected places. Like Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Therefore, just down the road to the entrance to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, is a sign telling drivers to turn in order to see the Mississippi Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Sure enough, it's in a nice park, near several buildings filled by government agencies.

The centerpiece is the structure shown here. It contains the names of the 667 people from this state who died in the Vietnam War. Many have images as well; you can see some of them on the wall.

The question, then is: why here?

According to one newspaper story, the project was driven by Vietnamese immigrants who wanted to thank America for its efforts in trying to bring freedom to their country. They also hoped the idea would bring some healing to all concerned.

This structure is surrounded by the All Veterans Walkway, dedicated to all veterans who served the nation in the military.

By the way, the brochure at the park says the Walkway "leads to the entrance of the most magnificent memorial in all the United States - The Mississippi Vietnam Veterans Memorial."

Gee, with that sort of rhetoric, you'd think they could have charged admission.

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Davis Bayou, Mississippi: Gulf Islands National Seashore

You've heard of national parks and monuments, no doubt. Welcome to a national seashore.

Congress created the Gulf Islands National Seashore in 1971. It protects the islands and some of the coastline in Florida and Mississippi. For some reason, Alabama opted not to be part of the program so those islands are not part of the national seashore.

Our visit was a brief one to the Mississippi shore, including a stop at the Colmer Visitor Center in Davis Bayou near Ocean Springs off Route 90. (It's easy to miss; the entrance is surrounded by forest.) We took a short walk on the boardwalk to the edge of the swamp. It's striking in its own way. There is a ferry to one of the islands, and private boats do go to the other barrier islands. The Florida islands can be reached by car.

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Biloxi, Mississippi: Katrina Memorial

Hurricane Katrina changed Biloxi forever. The storm will never be forgotten, but that doesn't mean a memorial in a park across the street from the ocean isn't a good idea.

The storm surge was about 12 feet high around the spot of the tribute, so that's how tall the memorial is. The list of those who perished in the worst natural disaster in American history are on the slab of granite.

The box in front of the structure contains objects that didn't complete fall apart in the story's fury. It contains such items as photos and personal objects.

This was constructed by the television show Extreme Home Makeover. That's a slightly curious choice, but somebody did a good job of putting it together.

By the way, the park has some sculptured trees, which are also located throughout the city as citizens decided to put the debris to use. It's quite nice and a little touching.

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Biloxi, Mississippi: Sharkheads

Let's say you've decided to open a souvenir store along the waterfront in Biloxi. You need something to call attention to it, right? How about a shark's head that checks in at 32 feet tall?

Yes, that will do it.

When it comes to big souvenir stores along the Gulf, this one looks like the champ. There are a variety of items in there, including the usual shirts and key chains.

As you can imagine, this building took a pounding from Katrina in 2005. There's a picture of it in a YouTube documentary. But it was rebuilt by 2012, better than ever. Everything for sale is on the second floor, with parking at ground level. That won't stop another storm of the century, but hopefully the area won't be hit like that again anytime soon.

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Biloxi, Mississippi: d'Iberville Statue

Those of you who learned about explorers probably think of a single name with most of them. Columbus. Balboa. Magellan.

So what to do with Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville? That's quite a mouthful. Let's stick with d'Iberville for the time being.

Our hero was told in 1698 to go find the mouth of the Mississippi by his French bosses. The idea was to build a big fort near the Gulf and control access to the middle of what was later called North America. He found the mouth well enough, but didn't see any good land for a fort. So he dropped off some men at Bilxoi, thus creating the city.

And that's why d'Iberville is honored in the Mississippi city. His statue is across the street from the waterfront. He went back in 1700, worked his way up the Mississippi and established a fort 40 miles up river.

d'Iverville is considered the first great soldier to come from Canada. His problem, supposedly, was that he wasn't good at consolidating his gains once he achieved his goal. I guess there's a lesson there.

The statue went up in 1999 for Biloxi's tricentennial. It took a beating by Katrina but remained standing. d'Iverville eventually went back to the waterfront, where he stands on guard once again. 

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Biloxi, Mississippi: Civil Rights Wade-Ins

The fight for civil rights in the Deep South took many forms. This one involved bathing suits, sort of.

Dr. Gilbert Mason, a Biloxi physician, joined seven African American friends for a trip to the beach in 1959. He was told by authorities to leave, even though those authorities had no idea what sort of law he had broken.

The battle over access heated up in April of 1960. Ten people were shot in a weekend of street fighting, and Dr. Mason was arrested. His house was firebombed that Sunday night. The Justice Dept. sued Biloxi to try to gain access for blacks to public beaches.

One last protest took place in 1963. A total of 71 protesters were arrested. But four years later, the Justice Dept. won the case, and the entire beachfront was opened to everyone the next year.

Later, a former Governor (William Winter) came to Biloxi to apologize essentially for his lack of courage in the matter. Part of Route 90 in the area is now named after Dr. Mason.

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Biloxi, Mississippi: Biloxi Lighthouse and Visitors Center

Call this a two-for-one special when it comes to a picture of Biloxi (Bill-LUX-cee) attractions.

The Biloxi Lighthouse has been around in one form or another since 1848. The place has survived all kinds of bad weather, including two major hurricanes in the past 50 years. Katrina did some serious damage to it in 2005, but by this time the residents wanted to bring it back to life. The lighthouse did exactly that in a 2010 ceremony. You can take tours of the building if you don't mind a little climbing. Click here for a documentary on the place.

Right behind it is the Visitors Center, and it's a great one as these things go. It feels and looks like a Southern mansion, with room filled with items from local artists and craftsmen. The facility also has some travel information, a theater, and a nice little gift shop. The Chamber of Commerce is located in here as well. Katrina knocked down the original version, but it was rebuilt to look the same.

Right across the street is a nice, long pier. Nice of the birds to pose for the picture.

The area certainly has changed because of the huge hurricane. This television report definitely will show you the extent of the storm's power; it's definitely worth a look:

 

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Bradford, Pennsylvania: Penn Brad Oil Museum

Tucked on Route 219 south of the city is this little museum of sorts - easy to miss as you go buy. It's designed as something of a tribute to the oil business of the region. This part of Pennsylvania is famous for its natural resources; check out Titusville sometime for an even bigger history lesson.

There are some working machines on the grounds that date back to the 1800s. The derrick on the grounds, pictured here, certainly has that old time feeling to it. But the building inside actually is quite modern.

Now, it would be nice to learn more about the place, but the website is, um, shall we say incomplete. If you click on the link, you'll find that most of the pages on the site is filled with what is called "dummy type" - something close to gibberish designed to fill space. So, visitors don't need to go any place other than the home page, which has a brief story of the museum.

Time to update the site, guys, and finish what you started. It might help get attendance above 1,200 visitors per year.

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Manassas, Virginia: Manassas National Battlefield Park

The battlefield at Manassas, Virginia, offers a discount. It was the sight of two battles in the Civil War, but there's only one admission charge.

The name might not be familiar, but the "phrase" Bull Run is known to those with even a passing interest in that conflict. Run is used in that part of the world for stream or creek, by the way.

The first battle of Bull Run took place in July, 1861, and it was essentially the first battle of the Civil War. Most expected the North to win easily and start to put an end to this little uprising. Civilians even took the trip out to the area to watch from the hills. What they saw was a Confederate victory. The Union side made a disorderly retreat that mixed in with others such as Congressmen who looked on from Centerville. The South was in no position to follow up, so the North escaped. But, it was the first sign that there would be no easy victories.

Along the way, Confederate General Barnard Bee took a look at General Thomas Jackson and said, "There stands Jackson like a stone wall." The nickname stuck forever. The statue pictured is where Jackson was at the time of the remark. General Bee, meanwhile, died shortly after speaking those words, and a monument honors him on that spot just a handful of feet away.

A little more than a year later, the two sides met on more or less the same spot. It was a bigger battlefield and a bigger battle. About 3,300 people died in the three-day battle, a shocking number. The South won again, thanks to a great plan by General Robert E. Lee. Full of confidence, Confederate troops headed north ... and fought an even more bloody battle at Antietam.

The National Park has a few statues and monuments on the grounds, and a couple of buildings and bridges uses in the battle are still standing. Luckily, the visitor center has a nice 45-minute movie that explains what happened, as well as a museum with some relics of the battle.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lewiston, New York: Our Lady of Fatima Shrine

Every so often, it's tempting to play the game called "What attraction in my region have I never seen?"

Time to cross the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine off the list, having paid a short, nice visit the other day.

The centerpiece is a Basilica with a dome on top. When inside, the roof looks like the Northern Hemisphere.

For those who want to climb 63 steps, visitors can reach the top of the Basilica. There's a large statue of Our Lady of Fatima, and the views of the well-landscaped grounds and the countryside are quite nice (see right). About 130 statues of saints have been placed in the area leading up the entrance to the Basilica. There's also a nice pond with a waterfall nearby, which seems like a good spot for a quiet moment. 

The Shrine has been open since 1954. There is a store and a cafeteria; the latter is only open at certain times. This all is located in Lewiston, although it has a Youngstown mailing address. Check the website for directions if you so inclined to pay a visit.

Guess it's time to find the next unexplored attraction in my area now. 

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Niagara Falls, NY: Aquarium of Niagara

It's always nice to be greeted by the host when arriving at a tourist attraction. This is what awaits visitors to the Aquarium of Niagara. In fact, as many as four such creatures are in a pond outside the front door.

The Aquarium is a nice little place a little bit north of the Falls. There is an assortment of sea lions, penguins, seals, fish, etc. on display. You can even set up a personal encounter with some of the critters. The staff has a reputation for being friendly.

Don't expect this to be anything like a big-city aquarium. The facility just isn't big enough. But, you'll probably find it to be an entertaining stop among the attractions in the area, especially if you time it to see some presentations.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

London, England

There's a line in the movie "Fail Safe" that has always stayed with me. An American and Soviet general are talking on the phone. They are talking about London, where they were both stationed during World War II. The American general asks his counterpart if he liked London.

"Very much," the Soviet replies. ""The great cities are those where one can walk; I would walk all the time in London. Wherever you turn, there's history."

That's London, New York's economic vitality mixed with Washington's history and government structures. It's tough not to bump into something familiar while visiting. Go to one area, and it is the inspiration for some of Charles Dickens' novels. Go somewhere else, and it's where Jack the Ripper hung out. And walk down Whitehall, and see a string of buildings that are familiar to even American tourists.

Maybe the greatest person in British history was Winston Churchill, who at one point in 1940 was the one last, loud, lonely voice for freedom in a world in which tyranny seemed to be winning. He is remembered in a place of honor in Parliament Square, overlooking his old stomping grounds at the Houses of Parliament. Both places can be inspirational, and Churchill's war room isn't far away.

I've hit a few high points on a blog here, but I must come back someday and look at this great city in detail. Here is a video look at some popular highlights:



Learn more about this vacation.
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London, England: Royal Artillery Memorial

You've probably noticed that art can cause controversy - even when it comes in the form of a military memorial. Such is the case with this, located in Hyde Park Corner.

During World War I, both sides spent much of the time throwing shells at each other. As a result, more than 49,000 Englishmen in the Royal Artillery died. After the war, that prompted a movement to pay tribute to that branch of the service.

It opened for public viewing in 1925. As memorials go, this is a grim one - more realistic than most in showing the cost of war. Those who thought the whole episode should be a little more, well, glorious, weren't happy. Use of the howitzer, on top, as part of the design didn't go over well either. But it still stands there, one of the best known memorials in Europe.

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London, England: The Albert

Thirsty after all this touring? Thought so.

A London visit wouldn't be complete without a stop at a pub. This one gets points for an interesting design, and some history. It's been around since the middle of the 1800's, named for Queen Victoria's husband.

You'll be happy to know that fish and chips are served here. Check out the menu here.

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London, England: Westminster Abbey

This isn't a typical angle of Westminster Abbey - but at least I can say I was at this famous facility. It is shown on the right side of the photo.

A church was first put on this site in the 7th century, and coronations of British monarchs have been held here since, gulp 1066. There have been 16 royal weddings here since the year 1100 (the last was Prince William and Catherine Middleton - too bad we don't hear much about that couple), and the current building started to go up in 1245.

As you'd expect, it's a great honor to be buried here. Sir Isaac Newton is here, and so is Charles Darwin.

After getting this close to the building, I was curious about what it looked like. There are clues here:



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London, England: Church of St. Margaret

If members of Parliament need a place to pray when things aren't going well, the Church of St. Margaret is right next door. Thus, it gets the nickname "the parish church of the House of Commons."

It's right across the street from the House of Parliament and Parliament Square, and right next to Westminster Abbey. This could be called the Abbey's little brother, since it was designed for the common folks and built late in the 11th century. There have been changes since the last major reconstruction in 1523, but people from then would recognize it now.

Among those buried here are Sir Walter Raleigh and John Milton. On Sept. 12, 1908, Winston Churchill was married here.

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London, England: Buckingham Palace

Anyone can take the classic picture of Buckingham Palace from the front? Not everyone has the imagination to take it from an angle.

Yes, the Queen and family do live here, and it's also their workplace. It's been the official palace since 1837, although other facilities are used as well. The chapel did get hit by a German bomb during World War II. That area was rebuilt as the Queen's Gallery to be something of an art museum.

Yes, tours are available. And even when you aren't allowed inside, the place is a good spot for celebration. You can imagine the crowds on V-E Day in 1945. There's also a famous here, where the Queen can do her Queen wave to her subjects, new babies can shown to the masses, etc. You can find plenty of other information about the place at other sites, like this one.

Surely we need a video of this place:



Oh, and if you ever want to see what the side of the place looks like, I've got a picture.

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